Marianne Williamson’s appearance at Detroit’s Fox Theatre on Tuesday night will probably be remembered for the novelty of hearing someone say “dark psychic force” during a Democratic debate. But the spiritual author and extreme-long-shot candidate also gave the clearest and best-argued answer on the question of whether—and how—the United States ought to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.
CNN Don Lemon began a segment on race relations in America by asking former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke how he would heal racial divides and take on President Donald Trump. O’Rourke said we must confront the hate crimes that result from racist rhetoric. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper talked about police reform and universal pre-K. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren pitched increasing funding for historically black colleges and universities. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in his town, describing how he tried to help residents come together after the tragedy. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar pressed for improving economic conditions for everyone.
O’Rourke then brought up the heart of the matter: the legacy of slavery in America. The former congressman pledged to sign into law Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s legislation to set up a commission to consider reparations proposals. But it was Williamson who brought her own, quite specific proposal: to commit up to $500 billion to help atone for slavery. Williamson, who has a spotty record with scientific facts and once again used some of her speaking time to criticize her opponents’ “wonkiness” and focus on policy proposals, did manage to deliver a stirring case for spending a vast sum of money to deal with the harms caused by generations of structural racism. While the particulars of her proposal to forego a “commission to look at evidence” are still up for debate, her argument for the moral and historical justifications for paying reparations was lucid and powerful:
Lemon: Many of your opponents support a commission to study the issue of reparations for slavery. But you are calling for up to $500 billion in financial assistance. What makes you qualified to determine how much is owed in reparations?
Williamson: Well, first of all, it’s not $500 billion in financial assistance. It’s a $200 to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is. We need some deep truth-telling when it comes. We don’t need another commission to look at evidence. I appreciate what Congressman O’Rourke has said. It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is is a collection of people. People heal when there is some deep truth telling. We need to realize that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with.
That great injustice has to do with the fact there were 250 years of slavery followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism. What makes me qualified to say $200 to $500 billion? I’ll tell you what makes me qualified. If you did the math of the 40 acres and a mule, given that there were 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War—they were all promised 40 acres and a mule for a family of four. If you did the math today it would be trillions of dollars. And I believe that anything less than $100 billion is an insult, and I believe that $200 to $500 billion is politically feasible today, because so many Americans realize there is an injustice that continues to form a toxicity underneath the surface.
Reporter Jack Jenkins pointed out that she gave a similar answer in an interview with the Religion News Service.
Williamson’s ability to weave pointed details about the injustices of slavery into a vigorous and principled call for reparations stood out next to the other candidates’ more tepid comments on racism and its historical roots. This is one dark force they could all learn to speak about more clearly.